North Korean charged in crippling Sony hack, WannaCry virus

First Assistant US Attorney Tracy Wilkison announces charges against a North Korean national in a range of cyberattacks on September 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 07 September 2018

North Korean charged in crippling Sony hack, WannaCry virus

LOS ANGELES: A computer programmer working for the North Korean government was charged with devastating cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment and for the WannaCry ransomware virus that infected computers in 150 countries and crippled parts of the British health care system, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Park Jin Hyok, who is believed to be in North Korea, conspired to conduct a series of attacks that also stole $81 million from a bank in Bangladesh, according to charges unsealed in Los Angeles federal court following years of investigation. The US believes he was working for a North Korean-sponsored hacking organization.
The US government previously said North Korea was responsible for the 2014 Sony hack that led to the release of a trove of sensitive personal information about employees, including Social Security numbers, financial records, salary information, as well as embarrassing emails among top executives. The hack included four yet-to-be released Sony films, among them “Annie,” and one that was in theaters, the Brad Pitt film “Fury,” and cost the company tens of millions of dollars.
The FBI had long suspected North Korea was also behind last year’s WannaCry cyberattack, which used malware to scramble data on hundreds of thousands of computers at hospitals, factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses across the globe.
“The criminal conduct outlined in this case is intolerable,” said Tracy Wilkison, the first assistant US attorney in Los Angeles. “The North Korean-backed conspiracy attempted to crush freedom of speech in the US and the UK It robbed banks around the world. And it created indiscriminate malware that paralyzed computers and disrupted the delivery of medical care.”
The charges were filed under seal June 8, four days before President Trump’s historic meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to discuss ending decades of hostility between the two countries. Prosecutors said the complaint was sealed for a variety of reasons and wasn’t done to prevent derailing the Singapore talks.
“This has nothing to do with the summit and nothing to do with denuclearization,” Wilkison said.
US officials believe the Sony hack was retribution for “The Interview,” a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco in a plot to assassinate Kim. Sony canceled the theatrical release of the film amid threats to moviegoers but released it online through YouTube and other sites.
A Sony spokeswoman declined comment Thursday. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach the alleged hacker were not immediately successful. Two Gmail addresses identified in the FBI in the complaint were listed as disabled.
Among the emails released in the hack was an exchange in which Amy Pascal, then co-chairman of the studio, and “The Social Network” producer Scott Rudin joked about what might be then-President Barack Obama’s favorite movies, listing “12 Years a Slave” and films by black comedian Kevin Hart.
The pair apologized. Pascal left her job months later.
In addition to targeting Sony, hackers sent spear-phishing emails to employees at AMC Theaters, which had planned to screen the movie, and to a British company producing a fictional television series about a scientist taken prisoner in North Korea, authorities said.
The hackers used the same aliases and accounts from the Sony attack when they sent spear-phishing emails to several US defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, and others in South Korea, officials said.
The criminal complaint says the hackers committed several attacks from 2014 into 2018, attempting to steal more than $1 billion from banks around the world. The investigation is continuing.
The hackers also targeted technology and virtual currency industries, as well as academia and electric utilities, authorities said.
“This case warrants attention whether you are an individual, a small business or a major corporation,” FBI Special Agent Jennifer Boone said. “Terms you’ll see in the complaint, such as watering holes and back doors, don’t sound menacing, but in reality they describe malicious cyber techniques that wreak havoc on our computer systems and our lives.”
Cybersecurity experts have said portions of the WannaCry program used the same code as malware previously distributed by the hacker collective known as the Lazarus Group, which is believed to be responsible for the Sony hack.
The complaint said Park was on a team of programmers employed an organization called Chosun Expo that operated out of Dalian, China, and that the FBI described as “a government front company.”
A North Korea-registered website bearing that company’s name described it as the country’s “first Internet company,” established in 2002.
A 2015 version of the Chosun Expo website said it focused on gaming, gambling, e-payments and image recognition software. It looked in many ways like a typical tech company, boasting of its “pioneering” IT talent and customer satisfaction. By July 2016, Internet archival records show, the company dropped the reference to North Korea from its home page. The site later vanished from the web.
Emails sent to Chosun Expo’s generic email address and to the website’s original registrant, whose name was given as Won Sun Chol, went unreturned.
It is the first time the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against a hacker said to be from North Korea. In recent years the department has charged hackers from China, Iran and Russia in hopes of publicly shaming other countries for sponsoring cyberattacks on US corporations.
In 2014, for instance, the Obama administration charged five Chinese military hackers with a series of digital break-ins at American companies, and last year, the Justice Department charged Russian hackers with an intrusion at Yahoo Inc.
The Treasury Department also added Park Jin Hyok’s name to their sanction list, which prohibits banks that do business in the US from providing accounts to him or Chosun Expo.
Park, whose age is not known, is charged with two counts alleging conspiracies to commit computer and wire fraud — crimes that could carry a prison term up to 25 years.
It’s unlikely he will be extradited because the US has no formal relations with North Korea.
The North Korean government was not notified about the charges, which are likely to be a source of irritation.
Diplomatic efforts have sputtered since the June summit, though Kim said through South Korean security officials Thursday that he still has faith Trump is committed to ending hostile relations.
Trump thanked Kim on Twitter and said, “We will get it done together!“


Elon Musk wants YOU to build a brain-computer interface

Updated 29 August 2020

Elon Musk wants YOU to build a brain-computer interface

  • Musk fears artificial intelligence might one day pose dangers to the human race
  • His proposed solution: Link computers to human brains so we can keep up

Elon Musk isn't content with electric cars, shooting people into orbit, populating Mars and building underground tunnels to solve traffic problems. He also wants to get inside your brain.
His startup, Neuralink, wants to one day implant computer chips inside the human brain. The goal is to develop implants that can treat neural disorders — and that may one day be powerful enough to put humanity on a more even footing with possible future superintelligent computers.
Not that it's anywhere close to that yet.
In a video demonstration Friday explicitly aimed at recruiting new employees, Musk showed off a prototype of the device. About the size of a large coin, it's designed to be implanted in a person's skull. Ultra-thin wires hanging from the device would go directly into the brain. An earlier version of the device would have been placed behind an ear like a hearing aid.
But the startup is far from a having commercial product, which would involve complex human trials and FDA approval among many other things. Friday's demonstration featured three pigs. One, named Gertrude, had a Neuralink implant.

This video grab made from the online Neuralink livestream shows the Neuralink disk implant held by Elon Musk during the presentation on August 28, 2020. (AFP PHOTO / NEURALINK)

Musk, a founder of both the electric car company Tesla Motors and the private space-exploration firm SpaceX, has become an outspoken doomsayer about the threat artificial intelligence might one day pose to the human race. Continued growth in AI cognitive capabilities, he and like-minded critics suggest, could lead to machines that can outthink and outmaneuver humans with whom they might have little in common. The proposed solution? Link computers to our brains so we can keep up.
Musk urged coders, engineers and especially people with experience having “shipped” (that is, actually created) a product to apply. “You don't need to have brain experience," he said, adding that this is something that can be learned on the job.
Hooking a brain up directly to electronics is not new. Doctors implant electrodes in brains to deliver stimulation for treating such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and chronic pain. In experiments, implanted sensors have let paralyzed people use brain signals to operate computers and move robotic arms. In 2016, researchers reported that a man regained some movement in his own hand with a brain implant.
But Musk’s proposal goes beyond this. Neuralink wants to build on those existing medical treatments as well as one day work on surgeries that could improve cognitive functioning, according to a Wall Street Journal article on the company's launch.
While there are endless, outlandish applications to brain-computer interfaces — gaming, or as someone on Twitter asked Musk, summoning your Tesla — Neuralink wants to first use the device with people who have severe spinal cord injury to help them talk, type and move using their brain waves.
“I am confident that long term it would be possible to restore someone's full-body motion," said Musk, who's also famously said that he wants to “die on Mars, just not on impact."
Neuralink is not the only company working on artificial intelligence for the brain. Entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who sold his previous payments startup Braintree to PayPal for $800 million, started Kernel, a company working on “advanced neural interfaces” to treat disease and extend cognition, in 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also interested in the space. Facebook bought CTRL-labs, a startup developing non-invasive neural interfaces, in 2019 and folded it into Facebook's Reality Labs, whose goal is to “fundamentally transform the way we interact with devices."
That might be an easier sell than the Neuralink device, which would require recipients to agree to have the device implanted in their brain, possibly by a robot surgeon. Neuralink did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.